Framing success

Going beyond just great teaching

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Welcome to Thursday (or Thor’s day as it was originally called, after the Norse deity of storms and strength). Today we continue our theme of success with a dip into subjectivity

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Success can be a powerful motivating force in school. It's primarily the product of great teaching. However, great teaching—by itself—is not enough. Because success is highly subjective.

Our views of success are shaped by many factors, not all of which are shared. Two students could have identical learning experiences and yet walk away with very different perceptions of how it went.

"The belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions."

— Paul Watzlawick

For great teaching to lead to feelings of success, our students need to have an accurate perception of 2 things:

  1. What success looks like in our classroom

  2. What caused their success (or failure)

Let's look briefly at each.

1/ Envisioning success

I could teach a lesson that I think is highly successful—my students all made progress in their understanding, asked me loads of questions, shared their mistakes, and helped each other when they got stuck.

However, if some students in my class believe that success means getting all the questions right, first time, without receiving help, and beating their peers—then they could easily walk away feeling like it's been a failure.

And so, as well as teaching effectively, it's imperative that we also help our students envision success. We can do this by:

  1. Telling our students what success looks like and highlighting examples when they occur.

  2. Emphasising changes in their knowledge or skill, rather than their progress on a task.

  3. Helping them understand that progress means beating their past selves, rather than others.

2/ Attributing success

Student perceptions of success aren't just influenced by what they think it looks like, but also what they believe caused it.

Only where students believe they are successful and they attribute the cause of that outcome to themselves—their own effort, ability, and approach—will their motivation increase.

Where students believe success is the result of external factors—an unfair test, a biased teacher, or sheer luck—their motivation will remain unchanged.

And so, as well as helping our students to envision success, we must also help them attribute it accurately. We can do this by:

  1. Reducing the influence of external factors and using objective measures where possible.

  2. Regularly highlighting how effort and approach make all the difference.

  3. Showing students their improvement over time, to prove that progress is possible.


• Great teaching is not enough by itself—we also need to frame success for our students.

• We can do this by clearly articulating what success looks like in our classroom.

• And by helping them to more accurately attribute the cause of their success (and failure).

Challenge → What do your students think success looks like? What do they think causes it? How might you influence these things?

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To storms & strength.

Peps 👊